Last week, leaders from across the Australian Baptist movement were in Canberra for the fourth Converge – an annual advocacy action which unites Australian Baptist Ministries, Baptist World Aid, A Just Cause, and Baptist Care.
Converge is a wonderful witness to our Nation’s leaders; an opportunity to demonstrate the heart and love of Jesus for the most vulnerable people in our world. In this blog, four of your Converge 2019 delegates reflect on highlights from their time in our nation’s capital.
This being my first Converge, I was keen to learn as much as I could about how to be an effective advocate for those we were representing. This year, our focus was on the state of children in our nation, particularly those affected most by income and housing stress. This was also a terrific opportunity to work together with people from across the Baptist movement – pastors, representatives of fellow Baptist agencies, and members of churches – all united in seeking greater equity for our most vulnerable.
So… what did I learn? Two things.
One. Taking the sentiment of Proverbs 31:8-9, it’s actually a privilege to speak up on behalf of others, not a burden. Our world is full of examples of collective action in order to achieve something of benefit for oneself – even things that are right and just. However, it’s rarer to find people acting on behalf of others, where there is no personal advantage to themselves. Surely, this is another way of seeing Jesus’s words that it is more blessed to give than to receive… and it brings us closer to the heart of being salt and light in this world. It’s also a game-changer when talking with our elected officials, insofar as they are impacted by the realisation that we have not asked to meet with them in order to gain advantage for ourselves.
Two. Churches should take more advantage of our democracy! Speaking with three Senators, two local Members, and two Ministry Advisors from different parts of the political landscape, I was encouraged to realise that these were all people (notwithstanding their differences) who believe they are there to serve the Australian community. Seeing this as common ground helped us, so that when we met with either a practical or ideological objection, we could steer the conversations by asking open-ended questions, or by giving examples of churches who have the basic DNA to make our communities more loving and caring of the vulnerable.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could continue to cultivate a stronger voice and a more coordinated effort in showing the love of Christ through the grassroots work of our churches?!
The National Church Life Survey has demonstrated that more than 80% of people attending Baptist churches believe that working for a more just society is an important dimension of Christian living.
With this in mind, it was great to be part of Converge 2019, joining with other Baptist leaders from across the nation to advocate for the needs of vulnerable children and families in Australia.
While the response from both sides of politics to our call for urgent action on Newstart and social and affordable housing was not what I would have liked it to have been, it was good to strongly put our case to our national leaders. I walked away from Parliament House again with a renewed commitment to the important work of advocacy and the privilege and responsibility we have as followers of Jesus to be heard on matters of justice locally and globally.
It is very encouraging to see a growing, united Baptist voice on issues that impact Australians doing it tough and open doors in Federal Parliament for our movement to be respectfully heard. Converge is a very worthwhile initiative and it will be good to see it continue to grow in its influence and impact in the years ahead.
Let’s keep working together for a more just and fair community and world. Let’s be encouraged that the work of advocacy is at the heart of living out the gospel.
I was really impressed by the enthusiasm of the new Parliamentarians. Their knowledge and intelligence, and their willingness to sacrifice time with family in order to serve their electorates and to make a real difference, these things were really evident at this early stage of the electoral cycle. Everyone we met with was keen to hear of local ministries, engaged in by our churches and organisations, that were working well.
Converge is also a great opportunity for everyone in attendance to meet with other Baptists from around Australia and be inspired by how much our movement is achieving to further God’s Kingdom. From working with survivors of Domestic Violence in South Australia to equipping the churches in Queensland to support foster families, we really are a part of an amazing movement of God’s people!
Now that another Converge has concluded, the debrief has filled us with ideas and directions to make next year’s event even better still. In the meantime, we can all make an appointment to visit our local MPs on home turf and keep building relationships that encourage compassion and generosity.
And I encourage you to do the same.
For more information about how to prepare for a visit your MP, download this guide: baptistworldaid.org.au/Guide-to-Meeting-your-MP.pdf
One of the great values of Converge is that it’s not just about talking to politicians. It’s also about Baptist leaders attending the event and learning that talking to politicians is a valuable thing (and not a difficult thing) to do. And hopefully, these leaders will then take this experience back to their churches and communities and have more confidence to begin building relationships with their local MPs, because the thing to understand about advocacy is that it’s a long game.
We go to Canberra for events like Converge – sometimes you feel like you’re getting results and other times you don’t. But politicians and their advisors have always been very clear in telling us that you don’t attend one meeting and hope for the best, you keep meeting and keep building relationships. In this way you build trust. And we certainly found this to be true in this, our fourth year of Converge. There was a much greater understanding of us as a Baptist movement and we had more meetings because more people were prepared to talk and listen to us. So, that was encouraging.
However, one of the big highlights for me was the positive tone of the two side-meetings I had the aid and development space (our Converge agenda this year had a primarily domestic focus). I met with the senior advisors to Alex Hawke, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, and an advisor to Marise Payne, who is the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Both meetings were constructive, and it was wonderful to hear the genuine excitement and positivity about our work and the role of the church in combatting poverty, particularly in the Pacific.